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You Need A Plan – Even If You Think You Don’t

The word “planning” scares a lot of people. I understand. In a general sense, it can suggest that you’re removing spontaneity, those unexpected events that can become life turning points, lifetime memories or a lucky break. None of us want those taken from us. And planning – when done correctly – doesn’t remove those possibilities….

The word “planning” scares a lot of people.

I understand. In a general sense, it can suggest that you’re removing spontaneity, those unexpected events that can become life turning points, lifetime memories or a lucky break.

None of us want those taken from us.

And planning – when done correctly – doesn’t remove those possibilities.

You’ve probably had times in your life – maybe you’re in one now – when you’ve felt completely overscheduled, as if every waking minute was planned. We know where that leads: burnout.

That’s not the kind of planning I mean.

Let me zero in on one form of planning, the kind we do in my line of work. We do financial plans for clients who want to achieve certain life goals. Overwhelmingly, that means enjoying a comfortable retirement and having money to pursue activities like travel or specific hobbies.

What pops into your mind, when you try to imagine financial planning? (OK, for some of you, I know that imagining financial planning is a step down from imagining root canal – but work with me on this.)

Most of the time, planning isn’t budgeting; or, at least, it’s not limited to budgeting. At its heart, planning is the process of discovering how you will achieve your goals.

And this is where financial planning and life planning converge. For most people who are firmly grounded in the 21st century, “retirement” simply means the ability to do what you want to do, whether that’s spend time with the grandkids, devote yourself to volunteer work, or launch a new business venture without the pressure to produce immediate income.

The word “retirement” carries some baggage: If you retire, the law requires that you move to Florida, start wearing stretch-waistband pants, and complain about your health during your golf, shuffleboard and bingo games.

Hard to imagine why anyone bristles at the word retirement, isn’t it? (For the record: I actually love Florida, but in that particular scenario, it sounds as depressing as a Soviet gulag.)

Maybe retirement-as-preparation-for-death was a scenario people planned for in the past – I really don’t know – but it’s not something I’ve personally seen, when it comes to actual client goals.

I’m using the example of retirement because that’s what comes up most often in the financial planning situations I’ve observed.

But any type of goal you want to achieve requires planning, and that almost always includes money: How will your objective be funded? That’s true if it’s a plan to quit your job and become an entrepreneur; switch jobs to something that you enjoy more but may pay less; or fulfill a dream of becoming a stay-at-home mom.

Planning is not about removing spontaneity and serendipity from your life. It’s more like a compass to guide you, than a fence to keep you contained.

I’m at a point in my life where this lesson is especially relevant. If I say a particular objective is important, yet I don’t put any time into it on a regular basis, then I have to ask a few questions. How important is it really? What’s preventing me from investing the time and effort to attain this goal?

There are a couple areas of my own life where I’m asking myself these questions, areas where I think I want to make changes, but so far, I’ve been haphazard, at best, when it comes to spending time and implementing new habits.

Most of the time, the things we really want don’t “just happen.” Even the use of affirmations and positive thinking techniques – which are useful, but must be paired with action – require a little time and focus!

So this is where a bit of planning becomes necessary. In his awesome program, “5 Days To Your Best Year Ever,” Michael Hyatt emphasizes the practical step of putting important actions on a calendar.

“If it doesn’t get on the calendar, it’s probably not going to happen. You’re not going to probably accomplish it in the leftover time you have every day because if you’re like me, you don’t have leftover time. You’ve got to schedule it. You’ve got to make a commitment and keep it.”

I know that’s often easier said than done – but that’s exactly the point! If you’re like me, you need a plan of some sort. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself meandering through life. And rather than resulting in carefree spontaneity, it often leads to regrets and bitterness.

I have no desire to be one of those compulsively over-scheduled people. But I also realize that it’s mentally, physically and emotionally unhealthy to be that person who comes home from work, scarfs down some convenience food because it’s quick and easy, and settles in for a night of TV.

And for the record: I’m far from being the poster child for exemplary habits. But I’m on a mission this year to follow Hyatt’s advice, and regularly allocate time and attention to the goals that I claim are important!

That’s my planning process for 2014, and one of the functions of this blog will be to keep me accountable!

How do you approach the process of planning to achieve your goals?

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